Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a visual novel that is by developed by Different Tales and published by Walkabout Games. It is set in the World of Darkness tabletop roleplaying game universe originally created by White Wolf and currently owned by Paradox Games.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse is a game where you are a werewolf given his or her powers by Gaia the Spirit of the Earth to protect her from environmental damage. It has sometimes been called an R-rated Captain Planet but actually got fairly deep into spiritual, indigenous rights, and corporate satire. It wasn’t my favorite game of the World of Darkness and often handled things in a ham-fisted way, but I still spent many hours playing it.
The premise of this game is that a young Polish American girl named Maia is journeying to Białowieża in Poland, along the border of Belarus. Białowieża Forest is one of the few remaining primeval forests left in the world and current endangered by semi-legal logging. Maia is researching her family history and suffers from elaborate gory dreams that are full of symbolism even she doesn’t understand. Maia is, to no one’s surprise, a werewolf about to go through her first change and has no idea of what awaits her when this happens.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest is a solid and well-written game that provides an excellent introduction into the setting. Even better, it chooses to go the less obvious route with the game than they might have. Rather than a game based around bloodshed and berserk war like many W:TA games, it actually puts a large focus on controlling your animalistic rage. Rage is an actual attribute in the game and if you have too much of it then it will terrify regular humans as well as force you to do actions that you may not want to do.
One of the things that surprised me in the game is the fact that it is entirely possible to do a pacifist run. You can rely almost exclusively on your wits and cunning to resolve issues rather than claws or teeth. Indeed, using violence may result in things getting much worse. This doesn’t mean violence is not a way to resolve things, just that it can have consequences that can result in things escalating rather than decreasing.
An interesting twist is the fact that there are very few Wyrm creatures in the game. The biggest enemy to the forest is a bunch of loggers, cops, and an apathetic populace. You can slaughter all of these people but the consequences are likely to be the same as a bunch of eco-terrorists murdering “regular” people. Tricking them or destroying them nonviolently may work but that may not be a straight or obvious path.
This is not a typical video game but closer to a choose your own adventure novel like those that I used to enjoy in the Nineties. The writing style is delightful, and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. It manages to capture the surreal and terrifying nature of the Spirit World as well as the moral ambiguity of its entities.
There’s also a lot of local history and geography incorporated into the narrative that makes the story seem more real. The art is stylized and well done, giving a vibrant impressionist style that suits the game better than recent Vampire: The Masquerade game’s more realistic as well as subdued art. If there’s a problem with the game, I’d say that it’s too short and I managed to finish it at barely over two and a half hours. There’s replay value but having chosen a pacifist and intellect-based route, I’m really not interested in a more violent brutal one.
One small detail for longtime fans of W:TA, the game seems to come down rather heavy on the Get of Fenris. Its members are characterized as fascists and brutes. There is more to their portrayal, Maia’s ancestor being a member of the Polish resistance, but you have to really work to find it. Given the Get are one of the most popular clans, I found this a strange choice. Nevertheless, I highly recommend the game.